News / Health

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchers

Patient Cured of HIV Provides Hope for Researchersi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
July 12, 2012 7:13 PM
An HIV-positive man diagnosed with an acute form of cancer is free of both, five years after his enterprising oncologist devised a treatment to target the cancer and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Doctors say this man is the first person to be considered cured of HIV. VOA's Suzanne Presto spoke with that persevering patient, Timothy Brown, as well as some of the researchers he inspires.
Suzanne Presto
WASHINGTON — Timothy Brown, a 46-year-old from the western United States, was once known in medical journals as "the Berlin Patient."  He is the man who had HIV, but doesn't anymore.

Brown revealed his identity in 2010, three years after an innovative treatment battled both the HIV and an acute form of cancer in his body.  He now promotes AIDS research.  

"I do have some mobility problems, but apart from that, I feel great.  Yes, it's great being cured," he said last month in Washington at a policy briefing organized by The Foundation for AIDS Research, or amfAR.   

Doctors say he is the first person to be considered cured of HIV.

"I am functionally cured, which means that I don't have any effects from the virus, and I don't have to take medication against the virus," Brown said.  "And as long as it stays that way, which I'm pretty sure it will, I'm okay with that."

Brown was living in Berlin when he tested positive for HIV in 1995.  He took medications to manage the virus.  More than a decade passed, and he started to feel excessively fatigued.  A bone marrow biopsy in 2006 revealed leukemia.      

After chemotherapy treatments, Brown's oncologist, Gero Huetter, suggested a bone marrow transplant.  

Dr. Huetter knew that 1 out of 100 people, mostly northern Europeans, are highly resistant to HIV due to a genetic mutation.  Simply put, they lack doorways that allow HIV to enter their cells.  

Paula Cannon, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, told the crowd assembled for the amfAR briefing that the HIV-resistant mutation was well known to the small group of medical researchers who specialized in HIV.  She explained that when people with the genetic mutation are exposed to HIV, the virus "has nowhere to go and sort of fizzles out."
 
In 2007, Brown went through total body irradiation and then received a bone marrow transplant from an HIV-resistant donor.  He immediately stopped taking HIV medication.  Although the leukemia returned, the HIV did not.  

"The first transplant went well but the second one was pretty horrible, and I wouldn't wish what I went through on my worst enemy," Brown recalls.  His complications included delirium, and he suffered neurological damage.        

Researchers stress that such transplants are very dangerous for patients and should only be done in extreme circumstances.   

"Tim had it not because he was HIV-positive," Cannon told the amfAR group. "He had it because otherwise he would have died of leukemia."   

Brown, who used to work as a translator and has limited financial resources, says his life is now devoted to providing hope.

"It's kind of hard sometimes, like, dealing with people who still have HIV.  I'm like, I kind of get a guilt feeling because I..." Brown's voice trails off for a moment. "That's basically why I'm going around the world and talking to people.  I want there to be research."

Dr. Robert Siliciano of Johns Hopkins University says Timothy Brown has been tested repeatedly and there is no confirmed evidence of HIV in his system.  Dr. Siliciano acknowledges that there is some controversy about the fact that a few tests suggest trace amounts of HIV in Brown's system.  But the doctor notes the techniques being used can pick up a single molecule, so false positives are a strong possibility.
 
"Also, there's the fact that Tim has been off treatment for five years and the virus has not started to replicate, so I think you're cured," Dr. Siliciano told Brown at the amfAR briefing, prompting Brown to laugh and offer his thanks.   

Dr. Susan Blumenthal, a senior policy and medical adviser for amfAR, says Brown's case has changed the path of cure research.  
 
"It has inspired us to put 75 percent of our research dollars into finding a cure," says Dr. Blumenthal.  "I think he's a courageous person."

Tim Brown says that he was "scared to death" when he was diagnosed with HIV and again when he was diagnosed with leukemia.  

"Somehow I knew in my heart that I would survive, even though the odds were against me," he said.  "I was probably the first patient that they had in the hospital who would work out in the hospital room. I brought equipment to work out with, and I wanted to stay in shape.  I didn't want to lay in bed and give up, so that was probably a large part of it."  

He adds that it is important for very ill people to have somebody to count on, as he did.

Brown's case galvanizes researchers such as Paula Cannon, who uses gene therapy to develop cells with the HIV-resistant mutation.   

"He's really a symbol of what we can do, what we can aspire to, and hope, and oh my goodness, motivation in buckets," exclaims Cannon.

Cannon says scientists are trying to introduce the HIV-resistant mutation into a person's own bone marrow, making it HIV-resistant.  That would eliminate the risks involved with receiving a transplant from a foreign donor.

Cannon's own HIV research involves a special type of mice.  

"We can do a transplant of human bone marrow into these mice and they will grow us a little human immune system.  We can then infect the mice with HIV, and importantly, we can cure the mice of HIV," explains Cannon.  "So, in the mice, we were able to show that we have the tools now to cure them of HIV, and so we're now trying to translate that into the much bigger mammal, the human being."

You May Like

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid